$4 Million U.S. Department of Education Grant to Help At-Risk College Seniors Afford to Stay in School


Photo courtesy of: Chris Kendig Photography

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab has spent 15 years researching ways to make college more affordable. Today, she has the chance to make a breakthrough.

Dr. Goldrick-Rab is principal investigator on a $3.98 million grant issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. She will work on the five-year project with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) to improve and grow small-dollar completion grants, which have helped cash-strapped college seniors who are in good academic standing pay their tuition and earn their degrees. Historically, completion grant interventions have been effective at several institutions.

Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s award is the U.S. Department of Education’s latest Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and Urban Serving Universities effort to drive transformative change at public universities to advance student success and adapt to the demands of the 21st century.

“A college degree has never been more important, but as we look to expand access to more first-generation and low-income students, we must recognize that cost too often becomes a roadblock. We know that far too many students who are on track to graduate drop out of school simply because they don’t have the necessary financial resources. That’s bad for both the student and the institution,” said Dr. Goldrick-Rab.

The grant will proceed in two phases. The first phase will examine completion grants at seven universities to assess key features of the grant programs, such as how they are targeted and delivered to students, their costs, their impact on student financial aid, and how universities participating in the programs will implement the grants.

In the second phase, APLU and Temple University will work with partner institutions to conduct a randomized controlled trial of the completion grants, which has four components: financial aid, messaging, requirements, and additional services needed for students completing their degrees.

For nearly a decade, Dr. Goldrick-Rab tracked 3,000 young adults who entered public colleges and universities in Wisconsin in 2008, with the goal of understanding college affordability and its impact on graduation rates. The results of that unprecedented and exclusive study are revealed in her eye-opening and alarming new book, Paying The Price, that shows with damning clarity that college students drop out overwhelmingly because they cannot afford the price.